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The Bell Jar (P.S.) by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar (P.S.)

ashley.kershaw, March 30, 2012

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, is a novel that holds heavy elements like depression, suicide, and sex, therefore it is not a novel meant for those who are discomforted easily. The story involves Esther, a girl trapped in a world of unreality and uncertainty which leads her to attempt suicide. Sylvia Plath traces experiences from her own life in this text. The Bell Jar is a chilling, yet brilliant story that brings light to the world of depression.


As previously stated, Sylvia Plath includes autobiographical elements in this book. She, like the protagonist in the story, was born and raised near Boston. Plath’s father died when she was 8 years old; similar to how Esther loses her father at the age of 9 in The Bell Jar. When Plath began to write this novel, she based much of it on her own life. Plath eventually married famous poet Ted Hughes. As their relationship turned to turmoil and their marriage ended, she fell into a depression just as her novel The Bell Jar was being published in England. Just weeks after the publication, Plath committed suicide. After being recognized as an accomplished poet, this text, along with her death, brought Plath to light as a cherished novelist.


The Bell Jar follows the narration of Esther Greenwood. She begins the story in New York, studying with a fashion magazine just towards the end of her college years. In this setting, Esther introduces readers to Buddy Willard. Esther dates Buddy throughout the majority of her story, but she informs readers right away that “[She] did look down on Buddy Willard” (52) because he “was a hypocrite” (52). After spending time in New York, where she clearly doesn’t fit in, Esther returns home to Boston to stay with her mother.


Esther’s glimmer of hope for the summer is shattered when she returns home to learn the news that she had not been accepted to a writing class that she has been dreaming about. She soon plunges into an intense depression at this point. Esther can’t get herself to read, write, or sleep for months on end. She begins to see a psychiatrist, but she grows wary of him when he prescribes her with a horrific shock treatment.

Esther then begins to seriously contemplate methods of suicide. She considers hanging and drowning herself. She even thinks, “One wrist, then the other wrist. Three motions, if you counted changing the razor from hand to hand. Then I would step into the tub and lie down” (147). She finally decides to take the whole bottle of sleeping pills her psychiatrist has prescribed to her. Her mother finds her in the basement unconscious and she is then sent to a city hospital.


Esther gains fame throughout Boston from her suicide attempt. After a short period of time, her scholarship benefactor Philomena Guinea decides to send her to a luxurious facility for mental rehabilitation. Here, Esther begins a process of rebirth and regrowth. She coincidentally meets a past acquaintance named Joan at this institution. Esther doesn’t like Joan very much primarily because Joan irritates her, but secondarily because she has a suspicious relationship with Buddy Willard.


Near the end of the novel, Esther decides to throw away her virginity and she sleeps with a stranger she has only known for one day. She ends up getting seriously hurt from the sexual activity and calls Joan for help. Joan, who witnesses and nurses Esther until she reaches the hospital, grows weak from the traumatizing event and decides to kill herself. Esther is deeply wounded by Joan’s death because she realizes that even though she found Joan annoying, she was her only real friend. Esther finishes out her time in the hospital and decides to go back to school. She feels revived and in touch with reality now that she has been rehabilitated, but she fears that the bell jar will close over her again someday.


The Bell Jar isn’t a plot-heavy text, but it is definitely a book worth reading. The author does a superb job of displaying the thought processes and torments one suffers through depression. She presents a chilling tone throughout the entire story by having Esther narrate her suicide in such a nonchalant manner. At one point, Esther claims, “That morning I had tried to kill myself. I had taken the silk cord of my mother’s yellow bathrobe as soon as she left for work, and, in the amber shade of the bedroom, fashioned it into a knot that slipped up and down on itself. It took me a long time to do this, because I was poor at knots and had no idea how to make a proper one” (158). Esther is so logistic about her suicide attempts; she narrates them in such a way that hits the readers hard about her seriousness. The book not only approaches suicide, but it also approaches sex in a very grave manner. Plath holds no reigns on addressing Esther’s painful loss of virginity. Plath uses diction choices like “But as Irvin drove me through the barren, snow-banked streets I felt the warm seepage let itself through the dam of the towel and my skirt and onto the car seat” (230). Relating the towels to snow makes the blood seem all the more violent and powerful. Sylvia Plath creates a vivid illustration of controversial matters in her story The Bell Jar.


The Bell Jar is an effective portrayal of the trenches of depression. Sylvia Plath uses her language and narrative style to relate this story to her own life, making it all the more powerful. The Bell Jar is an incredibly well-written piece of art.
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